Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Soenke Rossing, head of the industrials unit at German prosthetic limb maker Ottobock, demonstrates one of the company's exoskeletons in Berlin on Aug. 23, 2018.


German artificial limb manufacturer Ottobock plans to start selling a mechanical exoskeleton that makes manual labour for factory workers easier this week, joining a field already crowded with major industrial players and start-ups.

The 99-year-old firm, which started out making prosthetics for World War One veterans, is seeking to tap new growth opportunities ahead of a possible stock market listing.

The family-owned company has tested the Paexo, a wearable upper-body exoskeleton designed to ease the physical strain of repetitive overhead assembly work, on 30 workers at a Volkswagen plant in Bratislava.

Story continues below advertisement

After 80 percent of workers said they would recommend it to colleagues, Ottobock is talking to Volkswagen about using the Paexo in series production, said Soenke Roessing, head of Ottobock’s Industrials unit.

VW said it was in final consultations about rolling out the exoskeleton in series production.

Exoskeletons were developed for medical and military use. But as workers age, sales of exoskeletons for industry are forecast to rise to US$1.76-billion in 2028 from $67.29 million this year, according Rian Whitton, an analyst at technology market intelligence firm ABI Research.

This corresponds to more than 126,000 units in 2028, against around 3,900 this year, as companies seek to make workers more productive and protect them from injury.

Ottobock plans to launch the Paexo on Thursday. Beyond the automotive sector, it is targeting the aerospace, shipping and construction industries as well as tradespeople, and is running pilots at over 20 sites in Europe, Roessing said.

Hans Georg Naeder, grandson of Ottobock’s founder, sold a 20 percent stake to Swedish private equity firm EQT last year aiming to increase the company’s value ahead of a possible IPO.

Since then, Ottobock, which had sales of 927.4 million euros in 2017, has revamped its management with Naeder appointing Oliver Scheel as CEO, the first non-family member to run the company.

Story continues below advertisement

Ottobock began by developing exoskeletons to help people with partial paralysis or spinal injury walk again. Its move into industry is part of a broader bet on bionics - using mechanics to augment human strength.

It will not be alone. A host of new start-ups, including Dutch firm Laevo and California’s SuitX, are racing more established players in the defense and engineering space, such as Lockheed Martin and Panasonic.

Ottobock’s closest competitor, Iceland’s Ossur, has teamed up with Fiat Chrysler’s robotics specialist Comau and plans to launch an upper-body exoskeleton in December.

Other car companies are testing the technology too.

Ford Motor Co started testing upper-body skeletons developed by Ekso Bionics Holdings at two U.S. factories last year. Meanwhile workers at BMW’s Spartanburg factory in the United States have trialed an exoskeleton vest from Levitate Technologies.

Audi is rolling out a “Chairless Chair” exoskeleton made by Swiss start-up Noonee that allows workers to sit instead of standing at its Ingolstadt factory.

Story continues below advertisement

It has also tested upper-body exoskeletons from Laevo and is planning a comparative study with Ottobock’s Paexo and Levitate’s Airframe later this year.


Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of the VDMA Robotics + Automation Association, said the scramble to develop exoskeletons underscored a trend towards closer interaction between humans and machines in factories.

“An exoskeleton is probably the most intense form of human-robot collaboration. In a way, your arm becomes a robot arm because it has reinforced strength,” he said.

Schwarzkopf sees exoskeletons competing with inexpensive collaborative robots, or “cobots,” which can work alongside humans, for example placing a tire on a vehicle while leaving the worker to screw it into place.

A cobot can cost as little as US$10,000, although they typically cost two to three times that. Ottobock’s Paexo is priced at 5,000 euros.

The Paexo is a ‘passive’ exoskeleton that works by transferring the weight of the raised arms to the hips through a mechanical cable technology that takes the stress off a worker’s shoulders.

Story continues below advertisement

The backpack weighs 1.9 kilograms and gives the user’s arms a feeling of weightlessness akin to floating in a swimming pool.

Roessing said the Paexo was the lightest of its kind and can be worn for eight-hour shifts, allowing workers to hold heavy tools or screw in parts overhead without strain. To make his point, he wore the Paexo throughout an interview with Reuters.

Juergen Klippert, an expert on the future of work at the IG Metall union, said exoskeletons ostensibly provided relief. But it was unclear whether a worker’s joints would be burdened by holding heavy tools for prolonged periods.

Ottobock plans to make its exoskeletons “intelligent” by adding sensors to help workers correct their posture and tell them what part to place where in the assembly process. Prototypes to support the back and hand are also in development.

After colleagues kept asking to borrow the Paexo for the weekend to do home renovations, Roessing now wants to launch a simplified version for the price of a good power tool.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies